ORLANDO, Fla. — The long battle between Brightline and Universal Studios about the fate of the company’s Central Florida service appears to have ended, thanks to a new federal grant given to the luxury passenger rail service Wednesday.
According to a press release, Brightline was awarded $15,875,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Combined with a matching amount from the company itself, the money will be used to support the preliminary engineering and environmental approvals to get the western part of its route started.
The full $31,750,000 also provided another bonus: it surpassed the estimated $22 million needed to offset the cost of shifting Brightline’s planned route between Orlando International Airport and Disney Springs, allowing the tracks to follow SR-528 and for a second station to be built near the Convention Center, International Drive and Universal, an official with the company said.
The alternate proposal, which differed from Brightline’s preferred route that followed the more southernly SR-417, has been commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Corridor” by its backers.
“The Sunshine Corridor is a comprehensive, ambitious transportation solution for Central Florida. It represents the missing link in Brightline’s plan to connect Orlando and Tampa with modern, eco-friendly, intercity passenger rail,” Brightline CEO Michael Reininger said in the release.
The outcome is seen as a win for all interested parties. The northern route runs through more industrial zones and will attract less opposition from property owners. The rail line will provide a direct connection for visitors between OIA and the second largest convention center in the United States, which will be a major advertising point, and will either be a quick walk or shuttle ride to many of I-Drive’s hotels.
Universal is expected to donate land for the convention center station and provide other financial assistance, which would be another possible boost to the newly unified effort to install the rail line. The station is expected to be located near the park’s 1,000-unit affordable housing project.
However, the Brightline official pointed out that the new route will also benefit the area’s workers, since SunRail is expected to use the tracks for its long-planned extension to OIA that would presumably include the additional stop as well. Currently, many workers use a Lynx bus or SunRail to get to Orlando’s central station, followed by a bus to the I-Drive area, a journey that can take up to two hours per day. The direct connection through SunRail would dramatically shorten that commute.
“I think there would be a huge impact on the area,” Lynx rider Douglas Houghton said. “There’s a ton of people that work there. The buses run late, there are car accidents, traffic, they… bypass all of that.”
Brightline must still get approval to use the right of ways along the roads it plans to follow from FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority. If construction timelines are followed without any delays, service by both rail lines west of the airport could begin by late 2026.
Brightline service between OIA and South Florida is on track to begin in 2023.
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